Special Session 2020 is continuing into October; read about our progress below and find all my weekly updates from Special Session at delegatetorian.com/category/special-session-2020/. Meanwhile, it’s a great time to vote early! The General Assembly has passed a slate of new voter access laws since the last election that make voting – and voting in a pandemic – easier and safer than ever. Read on for more information on voting early or absentee in Prince William County.
Special Session 2020
Virginia’s General Assembly has been in Special Session since August to address the impacts of COVID-19 on our Commonwealth and to adopt new criminal justice reform measures. We are now in the “crossover” stage of Special Session, when the House of Delegates and Senate considerlegislation already passed by the other body. As Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, my primary responsibility has been to lead the reworking of Virginia’s biennial budget.
InMarch the General Assembly passed a historic budget that funded bold investments in affordable health care, access to higher education, workers’ rights, and many new initiatives to advance equity across Virginia. Since then, the people of this Commonwealth and country have endured the greatest public health crisis in 100 years, accompanied by a level of economic decline unseen since the Great Depression, amplifying every preexisting disparity. Virginia has been resilient but not immune.
We were called into Special Session with the mandate to close a $2.8 billion revenue shortfall while tackling the economic and public health demands of the pandemic and making longoverdue reforms to Virginia’s criminal justice system. The House Appropriations Committee took a holistic approach to reworking the budget with the aim of identifying savings and adjustments that could protect some of the progress in our original budget, while meeting the demands of the current moment. On Tuesday the House of Delegates passed an updated budget that meets our goals for Virginia: protecting our public schools, supporting our health care system, and directing $28 million to fund new criminal justice reform legislation. Read more about the House’s budget here.
This follows the standalone budget passed in August that funds voter access measures for November’s elections. The separate funding bill allowed voter access changes such as prepaid postage, secure ballot drop-off locations, and an absentee ballot “cure” process – all necessary in light of the pandemic. These measures were immediately instituted to allow Virginia’s registrars adequate time for implementation.
We all know that November’s election will be one of the most consequential of our lifetimes, and Election Day is only 33 days away. Here’s how you can be sure your voice is heard:
- Make sure you’re registered to vote and update your voter registration here. The deadline is October 13.
- You may vote early in person at the Prince William County Office of Elections in Manassas, the Haymarket Gainesville Library, or the Woodbridge DMV. These locations will all be open from 8:30am to 5pm Monday through Friday, and 8:30am until noon on Saturdays.
- Starting October 19, five more early voting centers will open at: Piney Branch Elementary School, Colgan High School, McCoart Administrative Building in Woodbridge, Ferlazzo Building in Woodbridge, and Dumfries Town Hall. At that time, all locations will operate with extended hours from 8:30am to 7pm Monday through Thursday, and 8:30am until 5pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
- The last day to vote early in person is Saturday, October 31. You do not need to provide a reason or fill out an application to vote early. You will still need to bring the same valid identification as you would if voting on Election Day (the list of acceptable forms of ID now includes a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or government document containing your name and current address).
- You can also apply for an absentee ballot. The voter access budget that the General Assembly passed in August allows you to return your absentee ballot to an accessible drop-off location established by your registrar, in addition to the options of mailing in the ballot or submitting it at your local registrar’s office. If you do return your absentee ballot by mail, know that the voter access budget ensures prepaid postage. No excuse is needed to vote absentee and a witness signature is not required.
- October 23 is the last day to request an absentee ballot be mailed to you. A completed mail-in ballot must be postmarked by Election Day – November 3 – and received by the Prince William County Board of Elections by noon on November 6. The Virginia Board of Elections is strongly encouraging everyone not to wait until these deadlines due to the risk of mail delays.
No On 1
One question you will see on your ballot this year is a proposed constitutional amendment establishing a new redistricting commission. Though I hope to see fair, nonpartisan, and independent redistricting in Virginia, I have been opposed to this amendment since it was first brought before the General Assembly in 2019. In the details of its implementation, this commission would be neither nonpartisan nor independent from the legislature; half its members would be sitting legislators and the other half appointed by them. It allows ample room for partisan stalemates. Most importantly, the proposed commission includes no guarantee of a seat at the table for marginalized voices. Any proposal to remove institutionalized bias and racial gerrymandering from the redistricting process must ensure fair representation of communities of color. For these reasons, I will be voting no on Amendment 1.
Virginia remains in Phase 3 of the Governor’s reopening plan. As of September 30, there have been 12,567 COVID-19 cases, 915 hospitalizations, and 205 deaths in Prince William County. Please continue to practice social distancing whenever possible, wear a mask in public, and get tested if you feel sick or come into contact with anyone who tests positive for COVID-19. Find free COVID-19 testing locations in Prince William County here.
While we are all adapting to the “new normal,” I know this pandemic remains hard on all our communities in more ways than one. Assistance is available. Learn about Virginia’s new Rent and Mortgage Relief Program: https://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/rmrp. Apply for or renew SNAP, Medicaid, and TANF benefits online at: www.commonhelp.virginia.gov. Apply for or renew Medicaid benefits over the phone by calling: 1-855-242-8282. Apply for SNAP, Medicaid, or TANF benefits over the phone by calling: 1-855-635-4370.Get information about unemployment benefits online at: https://www.vec.virginia.gov/unemployed.
Please stay well and don’t hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns.